Sam Krajnak is Chef De Cuisine at Pasco Kitchen & Lounge on University Boulevard.
Born in North Carolina to an Air Force father, Chef Krajnak’s family moved to Tucson when he was in first grade. Krajnak credits his travels with his family for opening his eyes to many different cuisines and food cultures.
Krajnak’s first kitchen job was with Jack Ahern at the age of 15, working as a dish washer at Ric’s Café. He worked his way up to cook then eventually Sous Chef.
He then worked just upstairs from Ric’s, at Skybox cooking at every station in the kitchen.
Chef Krajnak next found his home at Pasco when he took a line cook position and is now running the “urban farm” kitchen.
What was the first dish you had that changed your perspective on food?
We were in South Korea when I was around 10 or 11. We went to a little hole in the wall in Osan City. Little old ladies would bring trays with, like, 17 different bites of food – fermented fish, kimchi, quail eggs… I remember feeling like the employees were watching as this little white kid was trying all these dishes and loving them. The quail egg dish was amazing, so simple, yet so different and delicious.
What are you eating these days?
A lot of barbecue and burgers. Anything quick. When I have time, I like to try new restaurants. I’ve also been hitting up Street Taco & Beer’s happy hour quite a bit.
What was the first dish you remember cooking?
When I was dishwashing at Ric’s, I thought I was a hot shot. I went home and my dad was deployed so I decided to cook dinner for the family. I made a stuffed chicken breast with feta, sun dried tomatoes, and spinach with some overcooked white rice. It was not good. Yeah, that’s not going to happen again.
What concept, ingredient or food trend does everyone seem to love, but you just can’t stomach?
Let me preface this by stating that I completely understand this lifestyle choice from a conviction standpoint, and believing in the ethical treatment of animals.
But, for me veganism, from a strictly culinary and flavor standpoint, is a hard one for me. I love butter, cream, dairy and, of course, meat. Also, as a professional it’s challenging to do a lot of unique and diverse vegan dishes on the regular. That’s why I love the restaurant, Dirt Candy. The fact that they can create such flavorful and interesting vegan meals all day every day is impressive.
What chef, with us or passed on, would you most like to cook or eat dinner with?
Alex Atale, he has such a great outlook on food. Also, Marco Pierre White, cause he is the OG.
What city, other than Tucson, is your favorite place to eat?
Durango, Colorado. I love the food culture in Durango. I went to this little farm that did their own processing of meats and such. They also had a food cart that served the best burger, fries and eggs I have ever tasted.
Speaking in junk food terms, what is your favorite guilty pleasure?
Cheddar and Sour Cream Ruffles and sweet and sour Starbursts, “share size.” That’s my 1:30 p.m. snack!
Top three Tucson restaurants?
In no particular order:
OBON. Paulo is a G. The ramen, sushi, and crudo is off the hook. Cup Café. I go every Monday. I NEED The Braveheart. Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink. Their pizza concept is solid, and so is the Tough Luck Club, and beer garden.
With a figurative electric chair in your immediate future, what is your last meal?
A coursed out meal cooked by a collaboration between Rene Redzepi and Magnus Nelson. Whatever they want to throw at me, I am tearing it up.